Opinion

New words for a language in flux

Neo Logism, secretary for new words, announces the candidacy of two verbs and one adjective. The nominations will be put before the membership for a vote.

Today the secretary reminds members that although the candidates may be familiar to sophisticated folks, they are new to him, which is all that matters.

The candidates, in alphabetical order, are:

To hirple. This remarkable verb appeared in The Daily Scotsman on June 19 in a report by correspondent Mike Aitken. He was covering the U.S. Open golf tournament at Torrey Pines. He wrote: “If there was a price to be paid for hirpling to glory on a wounded knee, Tiger Woods discovered the full cost,” etc. The verb is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as “to walk or move with a gait between walking and crawling; to walk lamely, hobble.”

To puppet. The verb popped up twice last month in columns by bridge master Philip Alder in The New York Times. He wrote, e.g., “North's three-club rebid forced South to puppet with three diamonds.”

Skeevy. The adjective appeared in The Washington Post last month in a column by Mary Karr about contemporary poets. By way of background she recalled a time when John Keats “lay gasping for breath in a skeevy room in Rome.” The OED defines “skeevy” as “unpleasant, squalid, distasteful.” The word is dated in English from the late 20th century; it is rooted in Italian dialect for “nausea, disgust.” Does “skeevy” fill a need?

Readers are invited to submit further nominations of new words or new uses of old words. Our blessed English language is in constant flux. It picks up new words like a dog picks up fleas, or in a more elegant image, like a garden of wildflowers picks up windblown seeds. Onward!

A praiseworthy simile

Anther function of the neologist is to voice an occasional word of praise for the fresh simile that crops up suddenly in an unexpected place. David Carr, writing in The New York Times about Tim Russert of “Meet the Press,” wrote a lovely line: “Russert had a face that seemed to be carved out of potatoes.” Do you remember Russert's face? Do you remember potatoes? Perfect.

A take-me-back question comes from “Don” in Charleston, S.C. He asks, “Once and for all, is it a cement truck, or a concrete truck?” Memories, memories! This was a favorite crotchet of my first city editor 66 years ago. I can hear him crying, “Concrete! Concrete! Cement is the powdery stuff that goes into concrete!” Some things one never forgets.

Spades is? Spades are?

A question of first impression comes from Doris K. Roane of Asheville, N.C. At her games of bridge a question repeatedly arises: “Is it ‘spades is trump' (singular) or ‘spades are trumps' (plural)? I say spades IS. Please advise so we can all be correct.”

It pains me to disagree with a bridge-playing reader in the home of the Grove Park Inn and the Asheville Citizen-Times, but ma'am, if the contract is four spades, spades ARE trumps. I should know. I've gone down at four spades a thousand times.

An inquiry of similar gravity comes from Scott Baumann in Bellevue, Wash. He encloses a clipping from The Seattle Times last month: The Wing Luke Museum was throwing a two-day party to mark “a historic opening.” Shouldn't it be AN historic opening?

Yielding (alas) to authority

Hooray for elisions and Reader Baumann! If I were stylemaster for the English-speaking world, you bet it would be AN history of England, AN hotel in Sussex, AN historical opening in Seattle and AN heroic campaign in Gettysburg.

Regrettably, the Stylebook of The Associated Press outranks your unreconstructed servant. To such a level has authority descended! I can say no more.

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